Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) vs Medical Assistant

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) vs Medical Assistant

When starting a career in nursing, many students may not know the distinctions between a medical assistant and a licensed practical nurse (LPN). Although both roles involve some similar duties, there are significant differences in education requirements, job descriptions, and average salaries between a medical assistant and an LPN. In general, an licensed practical nurse (LPN) primarily focuses on offering direct patient care under the supervision of a registered nurse (RN) and/or physician. On the other hand, a medical assistant engages in various administrative tasks, such as scheduling appointments or handling insurance paperwork, alongside basic clinical responsibilities like recording a patient’s vital signs.

Another contrasting aspect between medical assistants and LPNs is the job setting and working hours. Many medical assistants typically work in physician’s offices or ambulatory clinics with standard daytime hours. In contrast, LPNs more commonly secure positions in hospitals, nursing homes, and even patients’ homes, where they may work varying hours and shifts.

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Education Differences Between Medical Assistant and LPN

When choosing between a career as a medical assistant or an licensed practical nurse (LPN), understanding the differences in education requirements is crucial. Some individuals may enter a medical assistant career with only a high school diploma, receiving on-the-job training from a willing physician. However, in most cases, employers prefer medical assistants who have completed a formal training program.

Medical assistant training programs, available at community colleges and technical schools, typically last one to two years. Depending on the institution, students might earn a diploma in as little as nine months or an associate’s degree in 18-24 months. Program options often include online, traditional in-person classrooms, or a combination of both. Since licensure isn’t mandatory for medical assistants, they can start working once they finish their training.

Contrastingly, aspiring licensed practical nurse (LPN)s must begin their careers with a formal training program, usually taking around 12 months to complete. Like medical assistant programs, LPN programs are offered at community colleges and technical schools, emphasizing in-person training. While medical assistant programs cover administrative tasks alongside clinical duties, LPN programs focus on acquiring essential clinical skills for patient care.

In contrast to medical assistants, licensed practical nurse (LPN)s are obligated to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN) to commence work as LPNs.

LPN Role During a Code Blue

Salary Comparison Between Medical Assistant and LPN

As of May 2016, the mean annual salary for medical assistants was $32,850, while LPNs earned a mean annual salary of $44,840, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Factors influencing salary levels for both professions include geographic location, employer type, years of experience, and education level. For instance, a medical assistant or LPN might earn a higher-than-average salary in areas with a higher cost of living or with several years of work experience. For more details on LPN salaries, refer to additional resources.

Comparing Medical Assistant & LPN/LVN Salary By State

State Medical Assistant Salary LPN/LVN Salary % Increase
Alabama 27,280 36,300 33.1
Alaska 41,340 53,760 30.0
Arizona 32,970 51,670 56.7
Arkansas 30,160 36,800 22.0
California 36,620 52,670 43.8
Colorado 34,510 48,690 41.1
Connecticut 36,090 55,720 54.4
Delaware 31,630 50,330 59.1
District of Columbia 39,500 55,200 39.7
Florida 31,080 42,960 38.2
Georgia 30,830 40,250 30.6
Hawaii 35,450 48,980 38.2
Idaho 31,150 40,680 30.6
Illinois 32,920 48,070 46.0
Indiana 30,740 41,540 35.1
Iowa 32,920 40,710 23.7
Kansas 29,900 40,880 36.7
Kentucky 29,900 39,460 32.0
Louisiana 27,350 38,070 39.2
Maine 32,760 43,680 33.3
Maryland 35,030 51,980 48.4
Massachusetts 38,990 55,190 41.5
Michigan 30,490 46,660 53.0
Minnesota 37,560 43,620 16.1
Mississippi 29,080 36,840 26.7
Missouri 30,730 39,600 28.9
Montana 31,910 40,920 28.2
Nebraska 31,530 40,630 28.9
Nevada 32,720 53,500 63.5
New Hampshire 34,970 49,040 40.2
New Jersey 35,250 53,740 52.5
New Mexico 29,070 47,770 64.3
New York 35,530 47,170 32.8
North Carolina 31,460 42,510 35.1
North Dakota 34,540 43,200 25.1
Ohio 29,940 41,320 38.0
Oklahoma 29,660 39,290 32.5
Oregon 35,860 50,160 39.9
Pennsylvania 31,430 45,810 45.8
Rhode Island 34,430 55,410 60.9
South Carolina 30,380 40,090 32.0
South Dakota 28,820 37,100 28.7
Tennessee 30,500 37,920 24.3
Texas 30,270 46,110 52.3
Utah 31,350 42,720 36.3
Vermont 35,910 46,790 30.3
Virginia 32,610 41,450 27.1
Washington 38,020 50,740 33.5
West Virginia 26,210 36,050 37.5
Wisconsin 34,740 43,820 26.1
Wyoming 32,670 45,590 39.5

Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2016

Medical Assistant vs. LPN Job Duties

Medical assistants and licensed practical nurse (LPN)s share many similar daily tasks, including basic patient care under the supervision of an RN and/or physician. These tasks encompass:

  • Checking a patient’s vital signs
  • Collecting patient’s symptoms and medical information
  • Administering medication and vaccinations
  • Collecting samples (e.g., blood, urine, etc.)

While LPNs and medical assistants perform several of the same tasks, LPNs provide more extensive patient care, especially for those requiring longer-term care, such as patients in a nursing home. Under the supervision of an RN, LPNs also handle the following job duties:

  • Assisting patients with activities of daily living, including dressing, bathing, using the bathroom, etc.
  • Inserting and caring for urinary catheters
  • Caring for patients with ventilators and tracheostomy tubes
  • Providing feedings through nasogastric or gastrostomy tubes
  • Monitoring patients’ progress and alerting appropriate physicians as needed
  • Performing emergency CPR
  • Executing a nursing care plan under the direction of an RN
  • Exploring more details on LPN duties
  • Assisting with wound care

On the other hand, medical assistants generally perform administrative tasks to ensure the efficient and smooth running of a physician’s office or clinic, in addition to the basic patient care tasks mentioned above. Some of these administrative duties include:

  • Collecting a patient’s insurance information
  • Completing patient information and insurance paperwork
  • Making patient appointments, answering phones, greeting patients, filing medical records, and other office work
  • Performing bookkeeping and medical billing tasks
  • Sterilizing equipment needed for patient examinations and procedures

Both medical assistants and licensed practical nurse (LPN)s are crucial members of the medical care team, offering critical support to ensure patients receive high-quality and efficient care. While the positions share some basic job functions, the medical assistant provides additional administrative support to a physician or clinic, while the LPN offers more in-depth hands-on patient care.

Medical Assistant vs. LPN Licensing & Certification

Medical assistants and LPNs have different licensing and certification requirements for students to consider. LPN candidates need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN) after completing their state-approved and accredited Practical Nursing program. Once candidates pass this exam, they can begin working as an LPN.

On the other hand, medical assistants are not required to hold similar licensing to start work. While many medical assistant job openings do not demand certification, medical assistants may choose to become certified after graduation to enhance employment and earning potential. The American Association of Medical Assistants provides the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) certification examination to candidates who have completed a medical assisting program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).

Some MAs aspire to become licensed, focusing on more clinical patient care and exploring the path to becoming LPNs. They benefit from exposure to patient care and can already independently perform basic nursing functions like:

  • Collecting pertinent data from patients
  • Taking vital signs and identifying abnormal readings
  • Simple wound care
  • Applying orthopedic splints
  • Administering injections

How Does a Medical Assistant Become an LPN?

MAs seeking to advance their careers and become practical nurses have various options. Some may attend an LPN program at a community college or technical school, while others may explore online or hybrid programs.

Are There Any Medical Assistant to LPN Bridge Programs?

Due to their clinical experience as medical assistants, they are likely to succeed in an LPN program. However, not all prior education as an MA may count towards prerequisites needed for admission to the LPN program or for program requirements. For instance, pharmacology courses for MAs may not be as in-depth as in an LPN program, depending on the MA program. While some classes, like anatomy and physiology, might be transferable, it ultimately depends on the school.

Moreover, individual state nursing boards, as well as schools, outline what can be transferred and what cannot. Given this variability, students are encouraged to check with their state board of nursing first—some boards explicitly state that to be licensed as an licensed practical nurse (LPN), one must graduate from an approved nursing program.

For this reason, MAs should exercise caution when searching online for “MA to LPN bridge programs” as they may not meet educational standards for their state.

How Long is an LPN Program if Courses Can be Transferred?

The timeframe for an MA to become an LPN depends on how many courses, if any, can be transferred. Generally, LPN programs take around 12 to 18 months to complete. However, for those in a degree program (associates), the timeframe can be longer—about two years. This duration is shortened if courses from an MA program can be transferred.

What Types of Schools Offer an MA to LPN Program?

Several options are available for MAs wishing to enter an LPN program. Community colleges may offer a nursing degree for LPN students, providing a more comprehensive education in degree programs. Another advantage is that students are closer to earning an RN if that is their ultimate goal.

Vocational schools are also an option. LPNs can earn a certificate, usually completed faster as fewer general education courses are required compared to an associate’s program. It’s an excellent option for those eager to enter the workforce, and many vocational schools offer online learning.

Online or hybrid options are available as well, providing flexibility for working MAs. However, MAs exploring LPN programs should be mindful of a few factors. Firstly, some online programs may be based in another state, requiring students to be familiar with their state board licensing requirements. Accreditation should also be considered, as the program may be accredited locally rather than nationally. Additionally, MAs should be aware that online learning may limit interactions between students and faculty, which some find crucial to their education.

Medical Assistants, while performing many nursing tasks, must recognize that an LPN is an entirely different role—one in which the student needs to learn and grow accustomed to. MAs work under a provider’s license—physicians, NPs, or PAs. LPNs work under the direction of RNs and under their own license, resulting in a slightly different approach to patient care. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts in this regard. LPN programs are designed to allow students to not only perform bedside tasks but also work up to their scope of practice from a nursing point of view.

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